Can Paint VOCs Cause Birth Defects?
Did you know that birth defects affect approximately one in 33 newborns and are the leading cause of infant deaths in the United States? Or that there are more than 4,000 different known birth defects and most happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy? But, what causes them? We know that things like certain prescription drugs, alcohol, and lack of folic acid can lead to birth defects --- but, in over 50% of instances, doctors really don’t know. What experts do know is that congenital abnormalities likely occur due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. And, today we’re exploring one environmental factor many new moms are exposed to as they prepare their homes for a new arrival -- volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint. Can paint VOCs cause birth defects?
Here’s what we know:
Conventional paints contain known teratogens (chemicals that can cause birth defects) like ethylene glycol and likely teratogens like benzene and toluene, as well, as an assortment of chemical VOCs that have not been studied for teratogenic effects.
Even when we have evidence that specific chemicals in paint could lead to birth defects, typically it’s animal evidence and may not apply to humans. Or, it’s studies examining one chemical at high exposure levels, which may not translate to levels used in paints and how we’re exposed by using them. This kind of “real life” understanding of exposures is hard to come by. But, in 2012, a Danish study involving over 100,000 women that took over ten years to conduct found that exposure to paint fumes during the 1st trimester of pregnancy did indeed increase the risk of some types of birth defects. Specifically, they found that nearly 7% of the children who had birth defects came from mothers who had been exposed to paint fumes at home during the 1st trimester. And, that exposure to paint fumes in the 1st trimester of pregnancy was associated with a more than twofold increased risk of congenital anomalies in the nervous system; ear, face and neck; and renal (urinary) system.
In the U.S., nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned - so those first few months when baby is most vulnerable to environmental exposures that may cause birth defects are especially important. If you’re pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant, avoid exposure to VOCs in paint.The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or recommendations. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the issues raised here.